Climate scientists have been speculating the impact of climate change on social unrest and this has now been officially acknowledged by a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) . The Syrian uprising that began in 2011 could be due to a severe drought that has plagued the country from 2007-2010. The drought in that period was the worst causing wide spread crop damage and mass migration of villagers to urban spaces. The mass migration catapulted tensions which was already caused by poor governance, bad policies and unsustainable agricultural practices. The neighbouring tensions in Iraq was an added impetus to the Syrian civil war. The study combines climate data, social and economic data, it is the first publication to look closely and quantitatively at these equation leading to the current war.
The climate change factor
The drought between 2007-10 affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago. The region has always seen natural weather swings. But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10 percent reduction in wet-season precipitation. They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability.
The two factors of climate change is linked to this according to the authors. First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season. Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch. The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began. The researchers concluded that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.
The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including sheer population growth—from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years. Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton. Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years. The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third. In the hard-hit northeast, livestock herds were practically all obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.
As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq. In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services.
“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”
Could this be a warning for things to come??